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Museum Friends News

From the autumn 2016 newsletter

Chairman’s Report

Welcome to our Autumn Newsletter and welcome back to all our members after the summer break.  I hope you will all continue to support the Museum Friends by attending our monthly meetings which normally take place on the first Thursday of the month at St. Helen's Centre 7.30pm.  The talks which take place at these meetings are of varied subjects but always interesting and entertaining and it would be good to see more people attending.  Judy White is an excellent organiser for these talks and I am sure that you would find something of interest so please come along and enjoy.  We have our fund raising hat on again.  After a very successful Fish and Chip Supper (which we hope to repeat in 2017) we have now organised a concert at St. Helen's Church given by Abingdon Town Band.  It will take place on Saturday 8th October at 7.30pm, there are more details given inside this Newsletter.  Our summer visits have again been excellent and our thanks to Pam Martin for organising - next year the visits will have a more local theme making it easier for people to make their own way.

If you have visited the Museum during the summer or attended the Bun Throwing for the Queen's birthday, you will have noticed the hard work that the staff at Museum are carrying out in order to maintain a high standard of interest, not only for residents of Abingdon but also the very high number of visitors to our town.  Long may it continue.

My good wishes to you all.

Sue Stevens

Dates and venues for talks 2016/17

All will be held at 19:00 for 19:30 in St.Helen’s Church Centre:

Sep. 1st 2016

Mark Davies – ‘James Sadler: Oxford pastry cook & first British aeronaut’

Oct. 6th

Dr Hubert Zawadski – ‘The reluctant exiles: Polish resettlement camps in Oxfordshire and the Cotswolds, 1946-1970’

Nov. 3rd

Silvia Joinson – “Heckling and Fisticuffs”, 19th century Parliamentary Elections in Abingdon. 

Dec. 8th **

Marjory Szurko – ‘Edible evening – food for the 4th Earl of Abingdon’

Feb. 2nd 2017

Roger Thomas – ‘The past transformed – 25 Years of Archaeological discoveries’

Mar. 2nd

David Clark – ‘New light on Abingdon’s Abbey buildings’

April 6th

AGM & Richard Smith – ‘Oxford eccentricity’


** Please note change of date of December meeting.


Concert – 8th October

This will be in St. Helen’s Church, Abingdon and which will include an assortment of entertaining music, including songs from World War 1.  Tickets are £10 and include a drink.  For more information, or to buy tickets, please contact Ruth on 01235 524119, or Sue on 01235 200350.  Tickets will also be available nearer the time from places in Abingdon – keep an eye on our website –   All proceeds are in aid of the Abingdon County Hall Museum.


Visits 2016

There have been three very successful and highly enjoyable outing this summer.

Bodleian Library on Tuesday 10th May.

What an extraordinary place.  You felt history on the doorstep, although parts of the Library were extremely up to date and used all modern information technology to their full potential.  Our guide was excellent, she explained the origins of the building and different uses that had been made of it.  Particularly, on three occasions as Parliament when the houses of Parliament could not be used.  Sir Thomas Bodley refounded the library in the 16th century after the first library had started its life in the 14th century.  In 1610 it was agreed to give the library a copy of every book printed in England and is now one of the five libraries entitled to receive on demand a copy of every book published in the UK.  Students were everywhere and as you can imagine on our visit May-time examinations were uppermost in their minds - so although we were asked to please 'be quiet' I could not imagine being anything else, the whole place had that feeling of reverence.  Our visit also took us to the Radcliffe Camera through an underground passage way, which also served as a book motorway.  Requests for books were sent across to the Bodleian - found and sent back to the reading room in the Camera - simple method but it works!  The word Camera comes from the Latin word for chamber and, designed by James Gibb, it was the first circular library built in Britain.  As I have said, an extraordinary set of buildings.  You fear that maybe the digital world will take over, but to see those books, manuscripts and documents housed in such a beautiful place is very reassuring and should not be changed.

Sue Stevens

Appleton Manor Gardens on Thurs. 30th June.

Over 30 of us met at the gates of Appleton Manor to be welcomed by the Head Gardener, Simon Bailey, and his assistant.  We were taken first to the main front of the Manor House where we learnt about its history and were treated to tea, elderflower cordial and homemade shortbread (made with produce grown in the garden).

The twelfth century house with its Norman doorway, Tudor wings and elegant 1920s additions is fronted by young pleached trees and low box hedges with lavender, herbs and ox-eye daisies in the form of a modern knot garden.

Simon then took us on a tour of the gardens designed by Arne Maynard, one of today's most celebrated garden designers.  The Tudor feel of the yew topiary and clipped box edged borders enhanced the setting of the Manor and the views of the house across the lawns and moat were magnificent.

During the visit Simon had no hesitation in answering the many questions about the garden and its planting and explained that the design was continually evolving.

A number of us later visited the adjacent church of St. Laurence which has developed over many centuries going as far back as the 12th.

It was clear by the time we left that everyone found this a most enjoyable outing.

Peter Clare

Fishbourne Roman Palace and Chichester
Wednesday 6th July.

Leaving Abingdon for Chichester we almost immediately hit a massive traffic jam on the A34.  Our driver, Paul, used his initiative and took us through the villages and we were only 30 minutes late for our visit to Fishbourne.

In 1960 workmen cutting a trench through the fields north of the village came across a mass of rubble which turned out to be the north wing of the palace.  Excavations have revealed the largest collection of early mosaic floors in Britain.  It was a lovely, sunny day: and we were able to stroll through the gardens, and try some Roman style food.  There was an excellent presentation on the history and discovery of the palace.  The staff could not have been more helpful and it is well worth a longer visit.

In the afternoon the coach dropped us in Chichester where we were free to visit the Cathedral, the Pallant House Gallery, shop and eat.

Our visits this year have been particularly good.  Many thanks to Peter Clare for organising the visit to Appleton Manor Gardens.  I am already thinking of places to visit next year and am always grateful for suggestions.

Pamela Martin

From the archives

Report on BAFM SE(W) Regional Conference from autumn 2015 newsletter

Abingdon Museum Friends hosted this Conference last year and I was very happy to attend the Conference this year when it was held in Reading Museum.  Having made quite a number of visits to Reading for shopping I had missed the opportunity to visit Reading Museum.  The building is a very grand Victorian affair but very beautiful in that unique Victorian way.  The conference was a delight, well organised, lots of information and a thoroughly enjoyable experience.  It was very well attended, representatives from a very varied selection of museums within the SE(W) area.  Delegates had elected beforehand which of the talks they would attend and after the initial introductions and history of the building by the Museum manager we formed our groups.  My choice was Young Friends/Kids in Museums: to attract young people into Museums obviously was a challenge for all and even though the ideas were there, there was certain lack of ideas when it came to middle years teenagers and how to engage them in the Museum.  Starting youth panels or organising days in local Museums needs a lot co-operation with local schools.  Members of my group had had various degrees of success but it seemed these were just one-off situations.  I felt that it was very much down to the individual Museum to organise and although the ideas were there implementation would be difficult.  The workshop was interesting and gave food for thought.  The second session I chose was a tour of Reading’s Bayeux Tapestry which was excellent – Ben Bishop, Museum Gallery Assistant - gave a detailed and most enjoyable storyline of the tapestry. 

Much of the talk at the Conference was of ways of keeping Museums friendly, open places. Reading Museum Friends have a coffee morning once a month for their members for a general get together which is an idea that we could take up as the Mousehole is now run by the Museum.  I have promised myself I will return to Reading Museum because there was much more to see and I can recommend it as a place to visit, please do so if you can.

Sue Stevens

Three Visits organised in summer 2015

BMW, Cowley

Thirteen of us visited the BMW plant Cowley.  We had an excellent guided tour by John, who had worked at both the old Cowley works in the good old days and also at the ultra-modern, very efficient works.  Everything is calculated to the minute.  Tea and coffee breaks are exactly 14 minutes long.  Time is money and nothing must halt the production line.  A very interesting afternoon.          

Pam Martin


Print Room of the Department of Western Art

The friends who crowded into the Print Room of the Department of Western Art were treated to most informative and beautiful hour by the curator who displayed a representative selection of the illustrations stored there.  For those of us unable to go on this visit The Ashmolean’s website has most of the collection available online.

Peter Hallowell


Haseley Court Gardens

We were treated to rare treat when we were able to visit this beautiful garden which is not normally open to the public.  The owner, Mrs Fiona Heyward, gave us a short talk about its history: how, after years of neglect, it had been rescued in the 1950s by the famous American interior designer, the late Nancy Lancaster.  She then led us on a conducted tour of the garden enabling us to enjoy its many features including sunken garden with a giant topiary chess set, a walled garden with a mix of roses, perennials, biennials and annuals, a hornbeam tunnel, a potager, a scented white garden, a pink garden and a parterre all within a total area of eight acres.  I hope the photographs give some indication of just how splendid it is.

Peter Hallowell


Events and Talks archive


Concert with Wantage Male Voice Choir April 2013

For our last fund raising effort for the Museum Appeal, the Wantage Male Voice Choir came and gave a concert in the beautiful setting of St. Helen’s Church. With their conductor Cathie and accompanist Lorraine, 25 men sang a range of popular songs, old and new, from the musicals and by much-loved composers, taking full advantage of the great acoustics. There were several solos, some of which were sung, others recited, and the programme was varied in both mood and pace. For the “Song of the Jolly Roger”, formality was thrown to the winds as eye patches, pirate hats and even a parrot were produced. Drinks and good conversation peppered the interval in which the bar dispensed the drinks included in the price of the ticket and members of the Choir mingled with the audience to increase the intimacy of the occasion. There was a very good turnout and the audience enjoyed it all. It was a most successful event, raising just over £700; this will be doubled by the Lottery Fund. An enormous thank you to the Choir and to everyone who came and helped.

Fish and Chip Supper Quiz March 2013

This year’s Quiz took place yet again to a packed house. Lots of new faces in the crowd showed the event has taken off like a rocket and it was a sell-out before the tickets went on general sale. Despite the odd remark that some of the questions were hard (who can’t tell the difference between the feet of a camel and those of a giraffe?), and the Quizmaster getting an answer wrong through overwork (at least that’s her excuse!), there was a great atmosphere helped, no doubt, by many visits to the bar. The fish and chips arrived on time this year, although the designated collectors couldn’t find the van and were rushing round the area desperately trying to locate it, and were delicious. Many thanks to all those who contributed to the raffle, both with prizes and with ticket purchases, and to our anonymous donor who gave the prizes for everyone on the winning table. This year the losers each received a small Easter egg, but the battle was close fought and everyone did well. We raised over £300 and this will be matched by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Well worth the effort and a big “thank you” to the Friends’ Committee who worked so hard to make this a great evening.

Open Gardens June 2012

For the third time in 2 years, our Saturday Open Gardens event took place in dry weather, certainly almost miraculous this year. With 3 gardens to relax in and enjoy in East St. Helen Street, many people took advantage and came to admire the splendid array of colour and the luxurious lawns that the gardens offered. The roses, particularly, seemed to have flourished in the wet and cool conditions and their wonderful displays were remarked upon and photographed with great enthusiasm. St Ethelwold’s offered us the Garden Room to provide a place to have refreshments, and many visitors took their delicious cakes out into the fresh air and enjoyed the river views. The event made £550 which will be doubled by the Heritage Lottery Fund. So a worthwhile effort from the gardeners, who battled against all the odds to get their colourful havens looking so beautiful in time for the day. And who also sat at the door and explained to everyone how they manage the plantings. Susie Howard’s ability to keep her plants from being eaten by slugs was a cause of wonder, as she uses only organic and natural repellants. Take note – we do not need to use harsh methods to have a wonderful display. A huge thank you to everyone involved – Mr and Mrs Higham, Mr and Mrs Howard, St. Ethelwolds and all the volunteers who sat at the gates, donated cake, made tea and washed up the million cups and plates. See you next year?

There is a special message from Julie Mayhew-Archer, the Councillor who has represented the Museum for many years, She says Can I congratulate and thank everyone who helped with this very successful event, particularly the kind homeowners who opened their gardens. They were picture perfect. It raised almost as much money as last year and was much appreciated

Cheese and Wine Party May 2012

Choosing the first fine evening in the month, Fredericka Smith and John Elston hosted a wonderful cheese and wine party to help raise funds for Abingdon County Hall Museum. It was attended by almost 100 people, not just Museum Friends but personal friends and neighbours of the hosts and other interested parties. As the wine flowed freely and everyone tackled the huge range of cheeses on offer, so many that they needed two tables in two rooms to hold it all, the marvellous atmosphere encouraged everyone to donate most generously. This was greatly capitalised on by the extra help drafted in, in the form of the family offspring and their friends, especially for the raffle, which alone made several hundred pounds. The raffle prizes were enticing, with a brand-new vacuum cleaner, a glider flight, a photographic session, a handmade cot quilt and a beautiful oil painting of a heron (donated by Charlotte Elston) amongst the goodies. The event raised just under £1500, the single largest amount raised in one effort. Huge thanks are due to Fredericka and all her family – for opening their lovely house, for donating all the victuals, for attending so well to the parking arrangements, for moving much furniture and for ensuring that the weather was so good. And to everyone who donated so generously, some of whom couldn’t actually come in person. A very big vote of thanks is given to Miele Abingdon, Windrushers Gliding Club, Faulkener Photographers and to everyone who gave a prize towards the raffle. A triple gold star effort.


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